ICTD 2012: Does Openness Enhance Development?

This concept note is designed as a point of departure for thinking through the issues, including definitions, examples and further resources.

Open Development

Open Development (once referred to as Open ICT4D) is an emerging area of knowledge and practice that has converged around the idea that the opening up of information (e.g. open data), processes (e.g. crowdsourcing) and intellectual property (e.g. open source) has the potential to enhance development. Contrasting approaches to open development, however, highlight how varying goals and interests enact differing versions and visions of development.

In the 90 minutes allotted for the session we will not succeed in agreeing collective definitions for 'open', 'development', 'open development', 'openness', 'open-source', and ‘open data’. What we might realistically aim to do is share our aspirations for the field and work towards agreeing questions requiring further attention and research in the field.

In framing open development, Smith and Elder (2010) have defined open development as ways of organising social activities for development benefits that favour:

a) universal over restricted access to information, means of communication and ICT tools
b) universal over restricted participation in governance/informal & formal groups/institutions
c) collaborative over centralized production of cultural, economic, or other content

These dimensions are one useful way to expose Open ICT4D to critical appraisal. Perhaps the areas that most closely relate the first dimension of ‘universal over restricted access’ are Open Data, Open Education Resources and the Open Access Publishing of academic research. In the first section we introduce each in turn, offering a brief introduction and practical examples before looking at points of contention as suggested further reading.

Further Reading on the Topic of Open Development

Open Data: accountability and transparency

In recent years we have seen an expansion of initiatives demanding open access to the ’private’ data of governments, donors and development agencies under the banner of transparency and accountability. It is claimed that through access to such data the public can better hold institutions to account for their claims to deliver ‘development’.

Open Government data initiatives, for example, have helped bring associated technologies for transparency forward in the past five years, mainly through advocates for publicly funded work to become more transparent through the publishing of publicly owned data online. There is however limited evidence that sheds light on how governments become more effective and transparent through this process (Smith and Elder 2010).

Another argument for opening up data to the public is that it enables people to participate directly in discourse and decisions affecting their desired futures, thus opening up practice to wider knowledge and debate. The assumption being that citizens and professionals are capable of interacting with opened up data effectively, but Gigler et al. (2011) warn that these assumptions must be confronted if the true potential of OGD initiatives is to materialize.

The International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) aims to make aid more effective by opening up aid information, and making it easier to understand. It is an open standard that donors are encouraged to follow and many have signed on. It does not challenge the status quo, rather builds on the international aid architecture as it stands, and focuses on making aid information easier to access, compare and use.


Examples of community-led initiatives to appropriate open data for development include:

Further Reading

Points of tension:

  • Open to whom? In practice is data open to those already advantaged or marginalised?
  • Few would argue transparency is an undesirable but transparency to what end goal?
  • Who has power to translate data/transparency into accountability and social change?
  • What needs to be done to make data genuinely open and actionable by communities themselves?
  • What would community-led + community-centred Open Data processes look like?
  • What investments in popular education and capacity building would enable this process?
  • To what extent the approaches and programs developed in the US, UK, Canada, Australia can be replicated and/or applied in developing countries?

Further Reading:

Open Educational Resources

Publishing educational content (teaching materials, courses, curriculum, learning objects etc.) as open education resources grants the freedoms to anyone to use, copy, modify and re-distribute them. As more educational practitioners and institutions pool their content in the creative commons learning objects can be freely translated, improved, re-purposed and redistributed.

Access, resources and capacity are however unevenly distributed. There is also a heavy reliance on ICTs and this continue to constrain who and how OERs are created and thus the extent of locally created and culturally relevant content. OER effectively reduces access barriers, but the temptation to reuse and build existing content has implications for indigenous content production.


Points of Tension:

  • Open to whom? In practice are these available to the most marginalised?
  • Should all educational materials be considered public goods?
  • Should they be freely available to all?
  • What would need to happen to provide access to all?
  • Would access alone constitute development?
  • What additional measures would be necessary to translate access into development?

Open Access Publishing:

The majority of published academic research is currently hidden behind paywalls, controlled by ‘clubby’ networks, and only available at all to those advantaged by virtue of their access to university education or ability to pay.

There is a progressive movement to breakdown these barriers to learning through the publication of open access journals and openly peer-reviewed journals.


Open Access Publishing:

Points of Tension:

  • Open to whom? Do you have to be online to access? Visible to whom?
  • Do any ‘clubby’ barriers to being approved for publication remain?
  • Should all educational materials be considered public goods?
  • Should they be freely available to all?
  • What would need to happen to provide access to all?
  • Does access alone constitute development?
  • What additional measures would be necessary to translate access into development?

Further Reading:


One of the OpenICT4D criteria for assessing open development was the dimension of ‘universal over resitricted participation’. Crowdsourcing has been one way to encourage open online collective participation in development activities.

Crowdsourcing is the act or process of taking the job of one person or few people, and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people in the form of an open call. In the context of development, crowdsourcing practices have been employed in contexts such as:

  1. Incentivized innovation in IP/product/service creation (universal participation). For example, Apps for Development, Challenge.gov and Open IDEO
  2. Open and collaborative data gathering (collaborative production and empowerment). For example, Maps4Aid, Wikipedia, Ushahidi, ReCaptcha
  3. Public grievance redressal and feedback platforms (universal participation and collaborative production). For example, PGPortal

In the arena of governance initiatives such as www.huduma.info “Fix My Constituency” have sought to mobilise citizens to use open ICT platforms to aggregate & amplify voices to hold government to account and demand improved service provision from authorities and service providers. Other examples are http://nuruyakwale.wordpress.com/ & http://cdfandlatifstarehe.wordpress.com/ which involve young people in auditing the performance of local government in delivering budgeted public development projects using digital cameras and blogs.

In Liberia, Nigeria, Kenya and Zambia citizen engagement has been catalysed through Citizen Monitoring to monitor elections, national referendum and human rights abuse using crowdsourcing platforms such as www.Ushahidi.com and mobile messaging tools such as www.FrontlineSMS.com

Crowd mapping is a variation on this theme where communities map resources and utilities in their neighbourhood as a mechanism for community engagement, advocacy and pressuring local authorities or development agencies to deliver against public pledges or duties. Examples include
http://bit.ly/quTAdm & http://bit.ly/qQQ9lc

Points of tension:

  • Open to whom? Is this the whole crowd or a section of the crowd?
  • Who is setting the agenda for the crowd?
  • Is it enough to provide open opportunity to participate?
  • What would it take for marginalised groups to participate?
  • What would community-led & community-centred crowd-sourcing look like?
  • What is the desired end result and who determines this?

Further Reading:

Open Source Production

The final OpenICT4D criteria for assessing open development was the dimension of ‘collaborative over centralised production’.

Open source production involves people choosing to contribute resources for the collaborative production of goods for shared use. Examples include free and open-source software production, open-source hardware production, and the production of cultural goods such as music and photography. Open licencing provides a mechanism for producers to contribute their work to the creative commons where others can enjoy the freedoms to copy, modify, improve and redistribute the materials. Production of digital goods is often geographically dispersed with volunteers forming virtual communities to produce specific goods.

During humanitarian crisis such as the Haiti earthquake virtual communities can form to produce online maps of critical resources, refugee or military movements from satellite imagery or to process tasks such as translations and documentation.


Points of tension:

  • Open to whom? Is this just for geeks?
  • Who is setting the agenda for what is produced?
  • What is the gender dimension of open source production?
  • What would it take for marginalised groups to participate?
  • What would community-led & community-centred open-source production look like?
  • What is the desired end result and who determines this?

Further Reading:

Outcomes of the Session

The session was held on March 15, 2012 at ICTD 2012. The discussions were summarized by Linda Raftree, and you can read the summary here.

There were four panelists:

  • Varun Aurora, opencurriculum.org
  • Matthew Smith, IDRC
  • Ineke Buskens, GRACE
  • Soren Gigler, World Bank

The panelists spoke about what their hopes, dreams and aspirations for open development were. Live participants then split into groups for discussion and returned one or two priority questions for further discussion. Left over questions were also collected.

The list of questions prioritized by the participants in the room and online followers:

  • How is open data being used by others?
  • What is the normative mission of open curriculum? Is the ultimate goal standardization, with an eye toward development, or diversity of views?
  • To what extent are IATI standards for open data an issue for ICTD?
  • Is openness fundamentally decentralizing or leads to centralization?
  • Can something be open and not public?
  • Is openness controlled by those who control resources?
  • Lots of data (e.g. World Bank) but where’s the focus/assistance to curate data, broker information, translate knowledge, and empower change?
  • What about open access? If research is done with public money, should results be freely available?
  • How do we ensure not just open for openness sake?

The list of questions that were of second order interest by the participant groups:

  • World Bank data is open but is it usable and by whom?
  • Who pays for the And?
  • What is the sustainability of open data for development?
  • What impact does open data have on an individual?
  • What are the mechanisms or feedback loops that open up data?
  • How do we lower the barriers to engagement with open development e.g. OER authoring tools?
  • How can OERs be more easily produced?
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